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Ask not when Christ was born… ‘the birth falls in the soul exactly as it does in eternity, neither more or less’ – Meister Eckhart. (But you can still like Silent Night)

Many years ago I asked a spiritual teacher whether she believed that Christ was God. She smiled and said, “Of course.” And then, before I could get too far into believing she had actually answered the question that I had intended, she added, “But aren’t we all?”

It was many years before I even started to understand the depth and wisdom of the seemingly contradictory mystery she had presented to me that day.

As Christmas approaches – a holy day that I embrace and look forward to every year, that I celebrate by trimming a tree, creating a village with sheep, angels, Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus and several music boxes, by buying presents and cooking a turkey, and a day that finds me in awe at Mass with my family – it is important to ask a pertinent question.

Just what exactly does someone who believes in the complete yet mysterious unity of God and Creation, in the non-dualistic immanence of Spirit, in the Cosmic Christ of Teilhard de Chardin, celebrate on Dec. 25? What does this particular birth mean once you’ve moved beyond the dualistic way of looking at the Incarnation?

I’m nowhere near truly answering that question, but in reading the European mystics while writing In the Same Breath, (yes we are jumping ahead about 1,600 years, sorry), I came across one of the writings that got German Dominican Meister Eckhart accused of heresy shortly before his death in 1328. As you can see, he has gone about as far into believing in the complete unity of Spirit and Creation, of Self and self, of Brahman and Atman, as one can.

And yet, the words are familiar even without leaving dualism. Christians do pray for Christ to be born in their souls on Christmas Day, all the while believing in a transcendent, separate, omnipotent personal God.

Eckhart recognizes that, but then takes us firmly to the the unity his mysticism felt as he ends this homily on Christmas with the words “we are the Son himself.”

This is a common theme for Eckhart. To him, the core of our being is the “ground of the soul,” and this ground is “one with the divine nature or ground.” In Eckert’s words here: “Hie ist gotes grunt mîn grunt und mîn grunt gotes grunt,” or “Here, God’s ground is my ground and my ground God’s ground.”

Meister Eckhart – From Whom God Hid Nothing

Here in time we make holiday because the eternal birth which God the Father bore and bears unceasingly in eternity is now born in time, in human nature. St. Augustine says this birth is always happening. But if it does not happen in me, what does it profit me? What matters is that it shall happen in me…

Now note where this birth occurs … this birth falls in the soul exactly as it does in eternity, neither more nor less, for it is the same birth. This birth falls in the ground and essence of the soul.

‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son (John 3:16). By this we understand not the external world, but the inner world. As surely as the Father, by his one nature, gives birth to the Son innately, so surely he gives birth to him in the innermost recesses of the mind, which is the inner world.

Here God’s ground is my ground, and my ground God’s ground. Here I live in my own as God lives in his own…

On one occasion I was asked what the Father is doing in heaven. I said that he is giving birth to his Son, an act he so delights in and which pleases him so much that he does nothing else but generate his Son, and these two are flowering with the Holy Spirit.

When the Father gives birth to his Son in me, I am his Son and not another: we are another in manhood, true, but there I am the Son himself and no other …We are sons in his Son, and we are the Son himself.

Now I’ll admit that as far as getting into “the spirit of Christmas” goes, this isn’t the warm and fuzzy Silent Night that was written in the early 1800s in Austria.

But I would say that both have their place. Perhaps the goal is to be able to appreciate both in whatever our spiritual lives or beliefs are – the soaring philosophical treatises and aha! moments of deep meditation and the folksy, emotional hymns and rituals. Might not that be another form of nonduality?

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Blessed Solstice and Joyous Kwanzaa!

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Beginningless beginnings in 350 BCE and the 20th Century – Chuang Tzu and Thomas Merton

Western society and its religions have traditionally fallen on the dualistic end of the philosophical spectrum. Good is good and bad is bad. Good is rewarded and bad is punished. God is all powerful and up in the heavens – transcendent. We are sinners way down here, and going to hell if we aren’t careful. Or if we don’t belong to the “right” religion.
NonSequitur10-31WrongChurch

Non Sequitur 10/29/09

Eastern religions have been more non-dualistic. There is yin in yang and good in bad. The spirit inside a person, Atman, and the spirit of the universe, Brahman, are the same. Spirit is immanent – in all things. The three religions of China – Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism – often meld the strengths of each and find a way to all get along.

For this and other reasons, there were few Western writings on the unity of Spirit and Creation until quite recently. Even the European mystics were trying to close the gap between themselves and God rather than believing there wasn’t a gap.

But then the tenor of late 1800s began opening some doors, in part because travel made contact between East and West easier. The first Hindu to set foot in the West came as a visitor to the Parliament of World’s Religions in Chicago in 1893.

Yin-Yang-Harmony-By the late 1930s, French Jesuit Teilhard de Chardin was writing a stunningly non-dualistic vision of the Cosmic Christ, but on orders from the Vatican the controversial treatise wasn’t published until  the 1950s, when The Phenomenon of Man came out in French and English. It was discussed in some progressive Catholic colleges by the 1960s, although with the caveat that some Church officials felt his views bordered on pantheism, a no-no.

Since the mid-20th Century, Buddhism has taken root in the West; Hindus have grown to more than a million in the U.S. and practices such as yoga, tai chi and qi gong have introduced everyday people to Eastern concepts.

At the same time, changes in secular society in the West have created an atmosphere in which the unity of God and Creation could be seriously considered. Even the new physics and the interconnectiveness of the internet have given us a new way to look at reality.

In essence, if one’s entire philosophy and world view is built on dichotomy, a separate, remote God makes the most sense. When the focus is more on interconnections, the Vedic Upanishads’ sparks flying from the same fire can become part of our belief system again.

As I searched for writings for In the Same Breath, a few examples from the earliest times and today were particularly striking. In perhaps the most interconnected, a 20th century Catholic monk, Thomas Merton, studied the writings of one of the founders of Taoism, Chuang Tzu, and  wrote personal versions of his favorites. Merton was part of a group of Christian, Buddhist and Hindu monks who studied and prayed together as part of an ongoing inter-monastic dialogue.

chuang-tzu_1Chuang Tzu lived between 370 and 301 BCE. His writing is mind-bending and often shot-through with surprising humor. One of his writings in The Complete Works of Chuang Tzu is responsible for the domain name of the blog – beginningless.  Merton’s version is in his 1965 book, The Way of Chuang Tzu. Merton died in 1968 while traveling in Asia.

Chuang Tzu

There is a beginning. There is not yet beginning to be a beginning. There is a not yet beginning to be a not yet beginning to be a beginning. There is being. There is nonbeing. There is a not yet beginning to be nonbeing. There is a not yet beginning to be a not yet beginning to be nonbeing.

Suddenly there is nonbeing. But I do not know, when it comes to nonbeing, which is really being and which is nonbeing. Now I have just said something. But I don’t know whether what I have said has really said something or whether it hasn’t said something.

There is nothing in the world bigger than the tip of an autumn hair, and Mount T’ai is tiny. No one has lived longer than a dead child, and P’eng-tsu died young.

Heaven and earth were born at the same time I was, and the ten thousand things are one with me.

Chuang’s words sound to modern ears almost like a Zen koan to tease the mind into reflecting on the mystery of this unity on a deeper level than rational thought. One has to let the words seep into one’s bones over several re-readings to begin to comprehend. That’s the fun of it. This brilliant gibberish, this impenetrable clarity, is early Taoism’s way of describing the unity of spirit and creation.

Thomas Merton

In the Beginning of Beginnings was Void of  Void, the Nameless.

mertonballcapSM

© the Estate of Ralph Eugene Meatyard

And in the Nameless was the One, without body, without form.
This One, this Being in whom all find power to exist  –
Is the Living.
From the Living, comes the Formless, the Undivided.
From the act of this Formless, come the Existents, each according
To its inner principle. This is Form. Here body embraces and cherishes spirit.
The two work together as one, blending and manifesting their Characters. And this is Nature.


But he who obeys Nature returns through Form and Formless to the Living.
And in the Living
Joins the unbegun Beginning.
The joining is Sameness. The sameness is Void. The Void is infinite.
The bird opens its beak and sings its note
And then the beak comes together again in Silence.
So Nature and the Living meet together in Void.
Like the closing of the bird’s beak
After its song.
Heaven and earth come together in the Unbegun,
And all is foolishness, all is unknown, all is like
The lights of an idiot, all is without mind!
To obey is to close the beak and fall into Unbeginning.

When next we meet: Taking a closer look at 600 to 300 BCE and all those beginningless beginnings!

gswimg at eartlhlink dot net